Cannot do without weekly fix

Cannot do without weekly fix

Cannot do without weekly fix

Hundred ka sau mein, hundred ka sau mein (Rs 100 product for Rs 100),” shouts a sweater seller as a couple of amused customers turn to look at him.

While some continue looking at the designer sweaters hanging from a rotating stand, those who saw the discrepancy giggle. No one bothers to ask him to explain the difference between hundred and sau.

“Saab, I am 55 now. It has become a habit that I am unable to get rid of. I learnt it from my father. A decade ago all would think I was offering the products at a cheaper rate. Now they think I am cheating them. But despite being conscious, sometimes I still end up uttering this sentence,” the shopkeeper tells Deccan Herald with an apologetic look. A few seconds later he repeats the same sentence.

Just a few shops away, a young boy begins muttering something softly with his head down. As he raises his tone and head, you catch him saying, “Season gone. Four sweaters for Rs 100.” The tone gets louder and louder till he has repeated it 20 times.He too has been trained by his father. He says his grandfather began this technique of drawing attention of customers.

Most of the shops at these weekly markets in different parts of Delhi were set up decades ago. While some still have old men manning the stalls, in most cases they are run by the younger generation.

These ‘teh bazaars’ are marked by rows after rows of stalls selling items ranging from pins and bindis to designer curtains and bedsheets. Almost every household item, often not easily available in high-end markets and malls, can be found here.

Fresh vegetables and fruit, designer tablecloth and footwear, stylish steel and glass utensils, variety of pickles, artificial flowers and plants. You name them and it is likely you can find more than a couple of shops selling these articles. Of course, at a price guaranteed to be much lower than any other regular market. While there is no guarantee of quality, the quantity is never under question.

These markets are popularly known by the day of the week they are held in a particular area. The Saturday market in Janakpuri is known as Shani Bazaar, the one in Ashok Nagar on Monday as Som Bazaar, Uttam Nagar’s Tuesday market as Mangal Bazaar, and so on.

The process of setting up these shops begins by afternoon. The same wide streets of the residential areas you could zoom by on other days are crowded with several mini-sized trucks bringing in the products.

By 3 pm, most of the shops are set up, tents erected, mannequins dressed, products put on display and empty trucks parked in all possible empty spaces. Vegetable and fruit sellers use colour lights over their items to show their products are fresh from the farms. Red lamps, deriving their energy from small batteries, throw light on tomatoes and carrots, green ones over peas, spinach and milky white bulbs over cauliflowers and mushrooms.

While these markets are known for  negotiating and haggling, most of the shops put up boards saying ‘no bargaining’ and ‘fixed price’. It is another issue that none of the products have any price tag on them for customers to know the fixed price.

“If you are unable to negotiate the quoted price to almost half on most products, you have not visited this market for long,” says Somnath Bhaskar, a banker who buys his daily products from Janakpuri’s market every Saturday.

Replicating a village fair, these markets draw customers from all walks of society. “Most upper middle class people visit malls for showing off. They all buy from our shops,” says Anil Kumar, who has been running a sofa and cushion cover shop for the past 22 years.

While most customers Deccan Herald met were happily filling their bags with different items, dissatisfaction did exist among a few. In south-west Delhi’s sagarpur’s Veer Bazaar on Thursday, a woman confronts a shopkeeper about an onion and tomato cutter she had bought from him the previous week. “It doesn’t work as you showed. I want my money back,” the woman tells him.

He grabs the instrument from her and uses it to chop three onions placed on his table. “You have to know how to use it. I am giving demonstration for that at my own cost,” he tells the crowd, some members of which begin walking away.

Every day he cuts and chops a large stock of onions, tomatoes, cabbages, peanuts, carrots, cucumbers and other vegetables just to demonstrate the utility of his products that are priced unbelievingly cheap.

Many regular customers say they limit their expectations while purchasing items from the market. “I cannot afford expensive crockery, so I buy them from here. They might not survive for long, but they resemble the most expensive ones available in the market. This market helps me fulfill my desires for things I could normally not afford,” says Reema Sharma, a homemaker in west Delhi’s Janakpuri.

Imitation and junk jewelry is another major draw at the market. Ranging from Rs 10 to Rs 2,000, they offer all sorts of variety. “I have been shopping for junk jewellery for over 10 years. But nowhere else you would get options available in these markets,” says Surbhi Sinha, a regular at the market.

She points to different earrings, saying the one priced at Rs 40 here would be available for Rs 100 in permanent shops. Another set of necklace and earrings costing Rs 800 here would be available for not less than Rs 2,000 even in online stores. “I don’t need to buy that set right now, but I could negotiate it for as less as Rs 500 right here,” she says confidently. The smiling shopkeeper nods approvingly.

Unlike fixed shops in regular markets where you have to shell out huge amount as security deposits and monthly rentals, the shopkeepers at the weekly markets are charged only Rs 15 by the municipal corporation for every table that faces the road. “I pay Rs 45 for the three tables. I get a receipt from the MCD. Where else would I get hundreds of customers everyday? If I have a permanent shop in the market, I might attract 10-20 customers,” says Kumar.

But the receipt is all the shopkeepers have as evidence that they work at these markets. “We have no identity cards, no special facilities. We try to educate our children in private schools with the money we earn here, but they feel ashamed among their classmates as we have no identity,” says Afroaz Khan, a seller of imitation jewellery.

Though a first glance at the market can give a feeling that the shopkeepers are minting money, they say there are days when they don’t earn a rupee. “No one comes for almost 45 days during monsoon. During important festivals the markets are shut for a week due to security reasons. There are days when we earn well, but there are weeks after weeks when we make no money,” says Rakesh Tomar, who sells crockery.

Many say they borrow money from lenders at high rate of interest and when they are unable to pay back they sell their products even at 50 per cent of the price they bought them for. “Winter is coming to an end. This sweater from Ludhiana cost me Rs 300 each. I am selling it for Rs 200 now. By the time I pack up in the night, I would be giving them away for Rs 100. I need to pay my lender,” says Sachin Bansal.

The shopkeepers say the same products sold by them are sold at 200-300 per cent higher rates in regular shops. Many of them sell items such as clothes, shoes, bags and perfumes claiming them to be branded that had either arrived in surplus quantity or were rejected due to minor defects. A closer look at shoes and bags at many stalls show them with labels such as AdiBas, FastTrack and ReebAk.

The shopkeepers have their areas fixed and can’t be encroached upon by anyone else. Those at prime locations have been there for as many as three-four decades. New members wanting to begin selling their products can set up stalls at the end of the market. They have only been increasing with each passing week and the market extending beyond a couple of kilometres in some cases.

Each of these bazaars are headed by a supervisor or pradhan who ensures no one occupies the allotted space and things go on peacefully without harassment from police. But shopkeepers claim such cases do crop up from time to time.

The popularity of these weekly markets is such that permanent shops in these areas complain of loss in business on the day of the market. “Luckily, no vegetable vendors are present in front of my shop. But still my shop goes unnoticed due to the other shops that are set up right in front of mine,” says Deepak Aggarwal, a vegetable and fruit shop owner in Janakpuri. 

He says he puts up a board every Saturday mentioning the cost of the vegetable after pricing them considerably lower than that offered by the vendors.

The next morning there is no trace of the fanciful market that existed the previous day. There is space for parking, roads to speed on and space to park vehicles. Aggarwal’s shop is visible, most customers buying vegetables are his. But nothing can make up for the lost customers who picked up supplies for the entire week – and will return the next week again with large empty bags.